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Angie DeWinter moved so many times as a child that she’s not sure how many places she has lived. Her father’s Air Force postings meant packing up every two years.
As an adult, she has had a different experience: She has lived in the same house in the Phoenix area for 25 years and stayed nearly 29 years at the same company—U-Haul International Inc., which offers trucking and storage services for do-it-yourself movers.
DeWinter recently was named vice president of human resources after working her way up over the years from accounting payroll administrator to head HR officer. She oversees a department of 63 and works with 22,000 employees—about 60 percent of whom are part-timers. U-Haul’s "Cadillac" benefits, she says, are offered to part-time as well as full-time workers.
DeWinter’s mother became the first of three generations to work at U-Haul when she took a job in traffic control while her husband was stationed in California. Now, one of DeWinter’s sons is making his career at the company, too.
DeWinter spoke with HR Magazine about why she chose HR—and why she made a moving company her home away from home.
Education: 1994, Associate of Arts, operations management and supervision, Rio Salada College, Phoenix.
Current job: 2013-present, vice president, human resources, U-Haul International Inc., Phoenix.
Career: 2007-13, director of human resources operations; 1999-2007, manager, medical benefits; 1992-99, supervisor, employee benefits; 1989-92, lead information auditor; 1986-89, payroll supervisor; 1985-86, accounting clerk, all at U-Haul International Inc., Phoenix.
Personal: Lives in the Phoenix area with her husband and owns a construction business with him. Has two grown sons, one of whom is the third generation of the family to work at U-Haul.
Diversions: Shopping for antiques, touring model homes, doing interior design, helping family and friends with staging and decorating projects.
Best moving tip: Don’t pack and move something you haven’t used in the past year; donate the item or give it to someone who needs it.
You’re heading into your busiest season between May and Labor Day. How do you recruit the help you need?
We have access to a large population of military families, so we tap into them for extra help. We reach out to the people who are home while their spouses are away working.
We also focus a lot on referrals for recruitment. This is a family-oriented company. People who have worked here have been here for a very long time. If they are referring someone, they understand the culture of U-Haul and our service-oriented philosophy.
What has made you stay at U-Haul for nearly 29 years?
I was raised in the military. When you move that much, you don’t get to build long-lasting relationships. That’s probably why I like being stationed here. The people have kept me here. I know when I leave every day that I’ve helped someone and that someone has helped me.
When I came here, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do in my career. The company allowed me to find my niche. If you want to do something here, you can; you just have to seek it out.
How is your company able to balance the bottom line while offering such comprehensive benefits packages?
We provide very rich benefits. I’m proud that there’s no premium here for our employees’ health care. We keep costs down because we partner with our team members. We do a lot of educational outreach on how to engage with doctors—for example, how to know what to ask when they are prescribed medications, when to get a second opinion, etc. We teach a lot of consumerism and prevention. For every five employees we have who lose weight or stop smoking, we’re seeing a domino effect—if you can do it, I can do it.
U-Haul handles employee benefits in-house. What led to that decision?
If we go to an outside administrator, we can’t customize it to our culture. U-Haul has a very conciergelike, service-oriented culture. For example, employees can sign up for an extra-care service program where they work with someone who advocates for them and helps them figure out their eligibility for coverage or how much money to put into a health savings account. And U-Haul University offers courses for employees and spouses on how to navigate health care options. We take a hands-on approach.
Your job has involved plenty of vendor contract negotiations. Do you have any advice for HR professionals about how to engage in those effectively?
You need to be very upfront and honest about your expectations. Don’t beat around the bush. Whatever terminology you are using as a company, make sure the vendor shares your understanding of how those terms are defined.
It’s also important to let a vendor know that you want to be engaged with them. Many vendors are not accustomed to a client wanting to be informed on an ongoing basis.
What’s the best way to announce major benefits changes?
If we’re going to make a change, we want to make sure to let employees know well in advance. Be open and honest about why the change has to occur.
How did you get into HR?
I started with the company doing payroll administration. I decided to go into HR because I wanted to better understand it. Then I discovered I had a knack for it. I remind myself every day that I didn’t always understand HR, and that helps me to grasp employees’ frustrations when they don’t understand it.
How do you describe your management style?
I’m not a micromanager. There are a lot of different functions within HR, so I have to rely on my team. I’m very engaged with them and seek out their input. I want people to say something when they don’t agree. You need to have disagreement. That’s how, as a team, you’re productive. I always have my door open. People believe I’m approachable.
Tell us something about yourself that would surprise people.
A lot of people don’t know that I run my own business. My husband handles a construction company during the week, and I address employee issues, payroll and taxes on the weekend. I spend so much time at work that people don’t have any idea that I do that, too. People say I have orange blood because of my nearly 29 years with U-Haul.
I also love to decorate. It’s my stress relief. At home, I move furniture around every three months. I do the same at my office. I like change.
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